Bob Dylan has confounded many fans over his career. First, of course, when he turned electric. Then when he turned country (“Lay Lady Lay”) crooner. The “Self Portrait” album was a major disappointment to many too.
But then he redeemed himself with next phase of amazing work, including “Jokerman,” with accompanying music video by George Lois. Dylan is always in a state of flux. He does not like to be pinned down. What he likes – and loves – is the music.
He may not be the protest troubadour of yore, but how could an artist be frozen in time like that. Isn’t it enough that we have the music he made back in the 60s? Those will always be generational anthems, whether he plays them or not. Or plays them in such a way that they are incomprehensible today.
But this past week “beautiful Bob” might have stepped over the line. His first concert in China, which by all accounts ignored the fact that dissidents, like the architect Weiwei is in detention, is something of a betrayal, if not to his fans, then to his own subversive nature. Or as Maureen Dowd writes:
Bob Dylan may have done the impossible: broken creative new ground in selling out.
The idea that the raspy troubadour of ’60s freedom anthems would go to a dictatorship and not sing those anthems is a whole new kind of sellout — even worse than Beyoncé, Mariah and Usher collecting millions to croon to Qaddafi’s family, or Elton John raking in a fortune to serenade gay-bashers at Rush Limbaugh’s fourth wedding.
I give Dylan a long leash when it comes to his persona, since his music is paramount, and he’s proved many times over that his art has incredible power to move and inspire. But, this concert subverts even the great subverter. China is a human rights disaster and censorship haven. To succumb to the demands of the Chinese government seems like Dylan just blew too much wind in the wrong direction.
(Read about And & Et in the last Nightly Heller.)